This psalm has an incredible message and gives us an amazing insight into God’s priorities in the governing of this, His world. But before we look at this important aspect, we can’t ignore, as Wilcock says, that in this psalm are “some of the strangest and most hotly debated lines in the Psalter.” (# 5)
They concern the following verses which speak of ‘gods’:
1 God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”.
5 “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 “I said, ‘You are “gods”;
you are all sons of the Most High.’
So, the key question is who are these ‘gods’ that Yahweh is presiding over and making judgement upon?
Now I am no Hebrew scholar, so let me summarize the possible answers mentioned by Michael Wilcock in his excellent book on the Psalms. He suggests:
“Broadly, there are four kinds of answer.
One suggestion… [is that] they are…the gods of heathendom [i.e., the so-called ‘gods’ of the nations surrounding Israel] …
Another suggestion is that they are what Paul [in Ephesians 6 in the New Testament] calls the principalities and powers, angelic spirit beings, good or bad, whom Scripture does sometimes call ‘sons of God’ (e.g., Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7), and who in some way preside over, or at least influence, human affairs.
A third is that they are human beings, the rulers or judges or priests of Israel, to whom God delegated just the kind of tasks set out in verses 3-4.
A fourth is that they are the people of Israel themselves, all sons of the Most High, even if the Old Testament does not actually call them ‘gods’.” (# 5)
So, take your pick!
I guess, if that was the only place this appeared, we could easily ignore it and move on, leaving it up to the scholars to debate. But what is fascinating is that Jesus actually quotes verse 6 to some who were unhappy with his teaching and activities. We find this in John 10:22-39 as follows:
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem… 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him [Jesus], saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe… 30 I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
Again, let me quote from Wilcock.
Psalm 82:6 “raises questions of very great importance. It appears in the New Testament [as above] … and Jesus appeals to it, citing its exact words, at a crucial point in one of the key controversies between him and his opponents. [i.e., “you a mere man, claim to be God.”] … note two phrases [of Jesus here] … First, he says the title ‘god’ is applied to those ‘to whom the word of God came’. Secondly, he says that if it was proper to use it of them, it is even more properly used of ‘the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent him into the world’ [obviously meaning himself].”
Wilcock then suggests, “We are back at Sinai yet again. Who at Sinai received the word of God? Who was sanctified (‘set apart’) and commissioned (‘sent into the world’)? It was Israel – not its leaders, its judges, but the whole nation.” (suggesting that option four above is the correct interpretation of ‘gods’ in our psalm).
He concludes, “That is surely the real point of Jesus argument…He is highlighting the name ‘Israel’ as one even more special than we thought, since it is in him alone, the true Israel [the True Vine – John 15:1-8] that we find what the name is really meant to signify.”
Whichever option we decide upon, it doesn’t change the truth that God remains the judge of all His creation, and Jesus is the Son of God, one with the Father. The psalmist proclaims:
He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity. (Psalm 9:8)
It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. (Psalm 75:7)
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 93:6)
And that includes you and me! The Good News is that we need not fear his judgement if we have given our lives to Him knowing the truth that:
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Thank you, Father, that you are our God. The One who judges and rules the world in righteousness and faithfulness. Thank you, Jesus, that you, Son of God, died to take our judgement upon yourself and to reconcile us to the Father. Amen.